26 November, 2019

Building friendships

I recently read a comment (here, on Lisa's Life Without Baby site) that broke my heart. A No Kidding woman said,
"I just accept that I will never have good, close, friends."
That is devastating. There were other, equally sad, comments. I do understand why someone may say that. They've felt isolated - by society in general, and specifically, by people they know and perhaps loved. They've felt that no-one understands, and perhaps that no-one wants to understand. They've felt rejected. And so they have built a wall around them for self-protection. By accepting they won't have good, close, friends, they have tried to eliminate that disappointment that so many of us feel when we are rejected anew.

We've all experienced it at some level or another. The men and women who don't know how to have a conversation with us unless they're talking about their children. The women who ask us about our children, then turn away when we say we don't have any. The awkward silence when they realise we might have wanted children but couldn't have them, for whatever reason. We've heard the election speeches talking about "our children's future" and felt left alone and forgotten. I could go on. We all know how it feels. And it is natural to want to protect ourselves against feeling that rejection over and over again.

I can understand this too, when we are first coming to terms with the life that we have been given, learning to accept that the life might not have been the one we decided we wanted. When the pain is raw, we feel the slights (intended or not intended, and sometimes even imagined) acutely, and all too frequently. It's natural to withdraw for self-protection, nurse our wounds, and give ourselves time to heal. I would argue that this is actually necessary for our healing, and for acceptance to begin. But only to an extent.

I've opined before on friendship and our expectations. Are we conditioned to expect too much from our friendships? Do we want too much of our friends? Do we want friends who are always available, who can drop things to go out with us without notice, who are always with us? Or (or as well), perhaps we want friends who are all understanding, who can empathise with us the nuances of our No Kidding lives, who recognise the grief and loss that we've felt? This is not unreasonable. But are we realistic in our expectations? Do we want friends who are all things to us, all at the same time? How likely is that?

I've written before that I have a childfree friend who doesn't really understand how I felt during my losses and early No Kidding years. But we share a love of travel, and so when we get together, that's what we talk about. She's not interested in a whole lot of other things I do or care about, but we have one or two things we both love, and that's where our friendship is focused. It is the same with other friends who are parents - perhaps we share an approach to business, a love of international politics, a love of food, or books, or exercise. None of them really share in my interests 100%. But that's normal, right? We're never all things to one person. And thanks to the internet, to messageboards and support groups and blogs, I have my No Kidding needs met. I get empathy from internet friends, bloggers and blog readers, and they also support and amplify my interest in the intellectual, societal, and political issues around our No Kidding lives. My husband can't do that, and neither can any of my friends and family. But that is okay, because I have you. These might be different relationships than with a friend who lives down the road who I can meet for coffee, or a real-life friend who now lives overseas, and they are no less legitimate, or important to me.

Sure, one friend in particular drifted away from me in those difficult years, as she focused on her children, and I focused on my losses, even though I was desperate for companionship, to know I'd been seen. But I know I was lucky with most of my other friends who were parents. We found the areas where we could enhance each others lives, and focused on them.

That's where I think it is useful to start. Looking for mutual interests, and the issue of whether they or we have children or not becomes secondary. Because I think that is what we learn as acceptance grows, as we embrace our future. We learn that our lives - with or without children - are so much more.

I will say that it becomes easier too, in our 40s and 50s. Children grow up, and leave home, and parents have more time on their hands. Whilst some grieve the absence of their children, others relish it. They, like us, embrace the positives of life when not actively parenting. And yes, grandchildren arrive. But they're rarely going to take that 100% attention that children require. I love hearing about my friend's grandchildren. Not endlessly. But they are part of their lives, and I want to share in their lives. Besides, these days, discussions amongst my friends seems to centre far more on the increasing dependence of their elderly parents than on their independent children.

But perhaps key to my friendships is that I don't expect to have all their attention all the time, and they don't expect to have mine. We all have different commitments and needs. different interests, different priorities. Accepting that makes friendships easier, and more relaxed, I think. But I don't think it limits the levels of intimacy possible in a close friendship either.

This is not to say I have it all sorted. I don't have a wide group of friends, probably because I haven't worked in an office for over a decade. I know I need to get more involved in groups - I'm thinking about joining another bookclub, or a photography group, for a start. I wish my many internet and overseas friends lived closer. I sometimes get lonely, though that's not necessarily unusual. Nor is it a result of my No Kidding status.

I think that if we limit our focus or friendships to those without children, then we are the ones who will suffer. Sure, it might be harder or take a little longer to find friendships in a society that is filled with people with children, but I don't think we should ever stop trying. Please don't resign yourself to never having "good, close, friendships." They are out there. For all of us. We just need to be open, without forcing anything. After all, connection is key to our survival, to our emotional health, to a happy life. We need to build it where we can. Because haven't we already lost enough?


  1. I loved reading your thoughts. I so agree with everything you have written.
    Exactly, we have lost enough!

  2. I totally agree with you Mali! I can relate to many of your thoughts:
    "We're never all things to one person."
    "But perhaps key to my friendships is that I don't expect to have all their attention all the time, and they don't expect to have mine."
    Thank you :)

  3. Yes I think everyone should have a few close friends at least, ideally. Making new friends is hard but not impossible. Everyone has different lives but ideally you can bond over things you have in common like you say. Joining or starting a book club or whatever interest group is a great start

  4. I find that even within parenting, when a person is in such a different set of circumstances (say, has a special needs child), friends may fall away. And conversely, friends may fall in, based on common circumstance. But the real and abiding friends are the ones that seem soul-deep, not circumstance-deep.